Another priest fatally shot – four attacks since December
In the Philippines, a priest has once more fallen victim to a deadly attack. On 10 June, 43-year-old Richmond Nilo was fatally shot on the altar steps of the Church of Nueva Ecija, 160 kilometres north of the capital city of Manila. The assassins were able to escape. Nilo was socio-politically active and had taken a stand against the work of the sect “Iglesia ni Christo”. In the Philippines, around 2.7 million people are members of this sect.
The murder was already the third fatal attack on a priest within six months. As recently as in early June, another priest just barely survived an attempt on his life. Philippine bishops have released a statement in which they called the incident a “brutal murder”. The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and president of ACN Philippines, Socrates Buenaventura Villegas, considers this latest murder of a priest to be a sign of ever stronger opposition to the Catholic Church. All the same, he firmly declared that they refuse to be silenced by this.
ACN: Last Sunday, the 43-year-old priest Richmond Nilo was murdered just as he was about to begin the celebration of Holy Mass. What do you know about the circumstances?
Archbishop Socrates Buenaventura Villegas: He came from celebrating Mass in another village chapel. He was preparing to put on his alb to celebrate another Mass when he was shot four times near the altar in front of the Virgin Mary Our Lady of the Snow. He was even joking as usual with his altar server.
There were rumours that “Iglesia ni Cristo” (INC) could be behind the murder. Would it be possible? What does that mean for the Christian community in the Philippines?
The matter is under investigation. Whatever the investigators may find, there is no reason to kill anyone. We debate, we discuss but we should never resort to murder to settle differences.
Richmond Nilo is already the fourth murdered priest since the end of 2017. Where does the hatred against the Catholic clergy come from?
He is the fourth priest shot by assailants. He is the third to die from the shooting. Father Richmond was an advocate of Kaya Natin (We Can) a movement for ethical political engagement. He was also an active Catholic faith defender. In a mission like this, centered on faith and morality, people will hate or disagree. The servant cannot be above the Lord. But this opposition is no reason to keep silent.
Foreign observers call the Philippines “one of the most dangerous places for human rights activists, environmental activists and critical journalists”. What can the church do in this heated situation?
The Church will always stand up for peace and mercy. Revenge is disconsonant with our message. Our first tool for social change is prayer. Only God can soften hardened hearts. Our second tool is to keep preaching Christ. We teach and never get tired to repeat the same message. The third response is dialogue. We dialogue with those who hate us or with all those who do not share our belief. We seek the common ground.
The political situation in the Philippines is becoming increasingly tense. At the same time, there were Islamist attacks in the south of the country. Is the country in danger? Could it break up?
We believe in the power of God. We are not afraid to be killed. We should rather be afraid to kill. Living in dangerous times has been part of our mission in the world. The Lord said “Fear not. I have overcome the world”. The Church can survive and thrive in any situation.